One of the seven deacons first chosen by the church at Jerusalem, and distinguished among them as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He seems from his name to have been a Hellenistic Jew, (see GRECIANS,) and to have been chosen in part as being familiar with the language, opinions, and customs of the Greeks, Ac 6:1-6. His mighty works and unanswerable argument roused the bitterest hostility against him, and he was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, on the charge of blasphemy and heresy. His speech in his own defense, probably recorded only in part, shows historically that the opponents of Christianity were but the children and imitators of those who had always opposed true religion. His enraged hearers hurried him to death, a judicial tribunal becoming a riotous mob for the occasion. Compare Joh 18:31. With Christ-like magnanimity he forgave his murderers, and "fell asleep" amid their stones, with his eyes upon the Savior "standing at the right hand of God," as if rising from his throne to protect and receive the first martyr of his church, Ac 7. The results of Stephen's death illustrates the saying of Tertrullian, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," Ac 8:1,4; 11:19-21. Augustine observes that the church owes the conversion and ministry of Paul to the prayer of Stephen. Paul, himself a Cilician, Ac 6:9; 22:3, had undoubtedly felt the force of his arguments in the discussions which preceded his arrest; and long afterwards alluded to his own presence at the martyr's death, Ac 22:19-20--that triumph of Christian faith and love which has taught so many martyrs and Christians how to die. Yet nothing he heard or witnessed availed for his conversion, till he saw the Savior himself, Ac 9. The scene of Stephen's martyrdom is placed by modern tradition on the east side of Jerusalem, near the gate called after his name. Earlier traditions located it more to the north.
one of the seven deacons, who became a preacher of the gospel. He was the first Christian martyr. His personal character and history are recorded in Ac 6. "He fell asleep" with a prayer for his persecutors on his lips (Ac 7:60). Devout men carried him to his grave (Ac 8:2).
It was at the feet of the young Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, that those who stoned him laid their clothes (comp. De 17:5-7) before they began their cruel work. The scene which Saul then witnessed and the words he heard appear to have made a deep and lasting impression on his mind (Ac 22:19-20).
The speech of Stephen before the Jewish ruler is the first apology for the universalism of the gospel as a message to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. It is the longest speech contained in the Acts, a place of prominence being given to it as a defence.
The first of the seven appointed to minister as a deacon in distributing alms, so that the Grecian widows should not be neglected while the Hebrew widows were served (Acts 6; 7). (See DEACON.) His Grecian name (meaning "crown"; by a significant coincidence he was the first who received the crown of martyrdom) and his anti-Judaistic speech indicate that he was a Hellenist or Greek speaking foreign Jew as contrasted with a home born Hebrew speaking Jew. (See GRECIAN.) "He did great miracles and wonders among the people," in confirmation of the gospel. He was, like the rest of the seven, "of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom"; also "full of faith and power," so that the disputants of the synagogue of the Libertines, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, all like himself Grecian Jews, "were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke." So they charged him before the Sanhedrin by suborned witnesses with speaking against Moses and God, the temple and the law, and asserting that, Jesus of Nazareth should destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses had delivered.
Doubtless, he showed that Jesus really "fulfilled" the law while setting aside that part of its letter which was designed to continue only until the gospel realized its types. His Hellenistic life away from the temple and its rites made him less dependent on them and readier to comprehend the gospel's freedom from legal bonds. The prophets similarly had foretold the superseding of the legal types and the temple by the Antitype (Jer 7:4; 31:31-34). His judges looking steadfastly on him "saw his face as it had been the face of an angel," like that of Moses after talking with God on the mountain (Ex 34:29-35; 2Co 3:18; Ec 8:1). They were at first awestruck, as the band that fell backward at Jesus' presence in Gethsemane. Then the high priest appealed to Stephen himself as Caiaphas had to Jesus. His speech is not the unconnected narrative that many suppose, but a covert argument which carries his hearers unconsciously along with him until at the close he unveils the drift of the whole, namely, to show:
(1) That in Israel's past history God's revelation of Himself was not confined to the holy land and the temple, that Abraham had enjoyed God's revelations in Mesopotamia, Haran, and Canaan before he possessed a foot of the promised land; so also Israel and Moses in the strange land of Egypt, and in Midian and Sinai, which was therefore "holy ground" (Ac 7:33), and in the wilderness 40 years.
(2) That in their past history from the first the same failure to recognize their true friends appeared as in their present rejection of the great Antitype Messiah and His ministers: "ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers did so do ye"; so the brethren toward Joseph, the Israelites towards Moses (Ac 7:9,35,40), and worst of all toward God, whom they forsook for a calf and for Moloch.
(3) That God nevertheless by ways seeming most unlikely to man ultimately exalted the exile Abraham, the outcast slave Joseph, and the despised Moses to honour and chiefship; so it will be in Messiah's case in spite of the humiliation which makes the Jews reject Him.
(4) That Solomon the builder of the temple recognized that which the Jews lose sight of, namely, that the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, as though His presence was confined to a locality (1Ki 8:27; 2Ch 2:6; 6:18), and which Jehovah through Isaiah (Isa 66:1) insists on.
Therefore spiritual worship is the true worship for which the temple was but a preparation. The alleged discrepancies between the Old Testament and Stephen's speech are only in appearance. He under the Holy Spirit supplements the statements in Ex 7:7, Moses "fourscore years old" at his call, 40 years in the wilderness, 120 at his death (De 29:5; 31:2; 34:7), by adding that he was 40 at his visiting his Israelite brethren and leaving Egypt for Midian, and stayed there 40 (Ac 7:23-30). Also he combines, as substantially one for his immediate object, the two statements (Ge 15:16), "after that they shall come here (to Canaan) again," and Ex 3:12, "ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Horeb), by Ac 7:7, "after that they shall come forth and serve Me in this place" (Canaan).
Israel's being brought forth to worship Jehovah in Horeb, and subsequent worshipping Him in Canaan their inheritance, were but different stages in the same deliverance, not needing to be distinguished for Stephen's purpose. Moses' trembling (Ac 7:32) was a current belief which Stephen endorses under the Spirit. Again as to Ac 7:15-16, "Jacob and our fathers were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought of Emmor," Stephen with elliptical brevity refers to six different chapters, summing up in one sentence, which none of his hearers could misunderstand from their familiarity as to the details, the double purchase (from Ephron the Hittite by Abraham, and from Hamor of Shechem by Jacob: Ge 23:16; 33:19), the double burial place (Machpelah's cave and the ground at Shechem), and the double burial (Jacob in Machpelah's cave: Ge 50:13, and Joseph in the Shechem ground of Jacob, Ge 50:25; Ex 13:19; Jos 24:32).
The burials and purchases were virtually one so far as his purpose was concerned, namely, to show the faith of the patriarchs and their interest in Canaan when to the eye of sense all seemed against the fulfillment of God's promise; Stephen hereby implying that, however visionary Jesus' and His people's prospects might seem, yet they are as certain as were the patriarchs' prospects when their only possession in Canaan was a tomb. These seeming discrepancies with the Old Testament are just what a forger would avoid, they confirm, the genuineness of S.' s speech as we have it. So as to other supplementary notices in it as compared with Old Testament (Ac 7:2 with Ge 12:1; Ac 7:4 with Ge 11:32; Ac 7:14 with Ge 46:27; Ac 7:20 with Ex 2:2; Ac 7:22 with Ex 4:10; Ac 7:21 with Ex 2:10; Ac 7:53 with De 33:2; Ac 7:42-43 with Am 5:26).
The fascination with which at first Stephen's beaming heavenly countenance had overawed his stern judges gave place to fury when they at last saw the drift of his covert argument. Perceiving their resistance to the truth he broke off with a direct charge: "ye stiffnecked (with unbending neck and head haughtily thrown back), and (with all your boast of circumcision) uncircumcised in heart and ears (which ye close against conviction!), ye do always resist the Holy Spirit" (compare Ne 9:29-30); with all your phylacteries "ye have not kept (efulaxate) the law," of which you boast. They were cut to the heart (Greek: "sawn asunder") and gnashed on him with set teeth. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit," strained his eyes with steadfast look into heaven" (atenisas, the same word as describes the disciples' look after the ascending Saviour: Ac 1:10). There he saw "standing (to help (Ps 109:31), plead for and receive him, not as elsewhere sitting in majestic repose) the Son of man" (a phrase used elsewhere in New Testament by Jesus Himself).
The members of the council, remembering probably the use of similar language by Jesus when on trial before them (Mt 26:64), being at all events resolved to treat as blasphemy Stephen's assertion of the divine exaltation of Him whom they had crucified, cried aloud, stopped their ear's (unconsciously realizing Stephen's picture of them: Ac 7:51; Ps 58:4), ran upon him with one accord (contrast "with one accord," Ac 4:24), and cast him out of the city (as was the custom in order to put out from the midst of them such a pollution: 1Ki 21:13; Lu 4:29; Heb 13:12) and stoned him, all sharing in the execution, the witnesses casting the first stones (De 13:9-10; 17:7; Joh 8:7), after having stripped off the outer garments for greater ease in the bloody work, and laid them at the feet of Saul who thereby signified his consent to Stephen's execution (Ac 8:1; 22:20).
The act was in violation of Roman authority, which alone had power of life or death, a sudden outbreak as in Joh 8:59. Like Jesus in his recognition of the glory of "the Son of man," he also
Early in the history of the Christian Church it was found necessary for the Apostles to devolve some of their duties on others. There is no reason for supposing (with Prof. Ramsay) that presbyters had yet been appointed, though they soon followed; but in Ac 6 seven persons, commonly (but not in NT) called 'deacons,' all but one probably Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews (see art. Nicolas), were appointed to manage the distribution of alms to the Hellenist widows. Of the Seven, Stephen was the most prominent. Their duties were not eleemosynary only; Stephen at once undertook evangelistic work and won great success, persuading many, and working miracles. His success resulted in the first persecution of the Church, and false witnesses were brought who accused him of blasphemy, and of speaking against the Temple and the Law. He made a long defence (Ac 7:2-53), which is not easy of interpretation. He summarizes OT history from the call of Abraham to the building of Solomon's Temple (cf. St. Paul's sermon in Ac 13), in a manner which shows that he depended partly on tradition, for there are many discrepancies between his speech and OT. He speaks with great respect of the Mosaic Law (Ac 7:35-38,53). Some think that he disparages the Temple as having been built against God's will (Ac 13:48 ff.). But this is very improbable. Perhaps the defence was not completed; yet what was delivered gives its drift. The Jews had misunderstood their own Law. God had not confined His presence to the Tabernacle and the Temple; He had appeared to Abraham and others before the Law was given; Isaiah (Isa 66:1 f.) had preached that God's worship was not confined to one place. But the people had persecuted the prophets as they now had killed Jesus. This defence provoked the Jews so much that they cast Stephen out of the city and stoned him
One of the seven chosen in the church at Jerusalem to minister the alms of the saints. He was a Greek-speaking Jew, who, though appointed to an office, yet in the energy of the Holy Ghost, bore witness of the power consequent on Christ being glorified, and the Holy Spirit here. 1Ti 3:13. Stephen was able to speak with such wisdom and power that his hearers could not withstand him. They suborned evil men to falsely accuse him, and he was dragged before the Jewish council, to whom his face appeared like that of an angel. He sketched the history of the people from Abraham, with which they were all familiar; but he laid bare from the outset the opposition of the Jews and of their fathers. Joseph they had refused; Moses they had repelled; they had turned to idolatry; had slain the prophets; had always resisted the Holy Ghost; and had been the betrayers and murderers of the Just One. Such was man's history under culture and probation.
His hearers were cut to the heart, but did not repent: they gnashed their teeth at him. He, lifting up his eyes to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and bore testimony to this. But they rushed upon him, cast him out of the city, and stoned him. He, like Jesus, prayed that their sin might not be laid to their charge, and, commending his spirit to the Lord, fell asleep.
Stephen's martyrdom formed an epoch in the history of the church. Being a Hellenist, he in this respect differed from the apostles. He was chosen for the first martyr. To him the heaven was opened, and he bore witness to Jesus, the second Man, being at the right hand of God. It is at this juncture that Saul, who was destined to carry on the ministry of the gospel of the glory of Christ, is brought into view. He was then a young man, at whose feet the witnesses laid their clothes. Ac 6:5-15; Acts 7; Ac 8:2; 11:19; 22:20.
It has been asserted, by some critics, that Stephen made several mistakes in his address to the council! It is said, however, in scripture that he was "full of the Holy Ghost." See SHECHEM.
the first Christian martyr, was the chief of the seven (commonly called Deacons) appointed to rectify the complaints in the early Church of Jerusalem, made by the Hellenistic against the hebrew Christians. His Greek name indicates his own Hellenistic origin. His importance is stamped on the narrative by a reiteration of emphatic, almost superlative, phrases: "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,"
full of grace and power, ibid.
irresistible "spirit and wisdom," ibid
full of the Holy Ghost.
He shot far ahead of his six companions, and far above his particular office. First, he arrests attention by the "great wonders and miracles that he did." Then begins a series of disputations with the Hellenistic Jews of north Africa, Alexandria and Asia Minor, his companions in race and birthplace. The subject of these disputations is not expressly mentioned; but from what follows it is obvious that he struck into a new vein of teaching, which evidently caused his martyrdom. Down to this time the apostles and the early Christian community had clung in their worship, not merely to the holy land and the holy city but to the holy place of the temple. This local worship, with the Jewish customs belonging to it, Stephen denounced. So we must infer from the accusations brought against him confirmed as they are by the tenor of his defence. He was arrested at the instigation of the Hellenistic Jews, and brought before the Sanhedrin. His speech in his defence, and his execution by stoning outside the gates of Jerusalem, are related at length in Acts 7. The frame work in which his defence is cast is a summary of the history of the Jewish Church. In the facts which he selects from his history he is guided by two principles. The first is the endeavor to prove that, even in the previous Jewish history, the presence and favor of God had not been confined to the holy land or the temple of Jerusalem. The second principle of selection is based on the at tempt to show that there was a tendency from the earliest times toward the same ungrateful and narrow spirit that had appeared in this last stage of their political existence. It would seem that, just at the close of his argument, Stephen saw a change in the aspect of his judges, as if for the first time they had caught the drift of his meaning. He broke off from his calm address, and tumult suddenly upon them in an impassioned attack, which shows that he saw what was in store for him. As he spoke they showed by their faces that their hearts "were being sawn asunder," and they kept gnashing their set teeth against him; but still, though with difficultly, restraining themselves. He, in this last crisis of his fate, turned his face upward to the; open sky, and as he gazed the vault of heaven seemed to him to part asunder; and the divine Glory appeared through the rending of the earthly veil --the divine Presence, seated on a throne, and on the right hand the human form of Jesus. Stephen spoke as if to himself, describing the glorious vision; and in so doing, alone of all the speakers and writers in the New Testament except, only Christ himself, uses the expressive phrase "the Son of man." As his judges heard the words, they would listen no longer. They broke into, a loud yell; they clapped their hands to their ears; they flew as with one impulse upon him, and dragged him out of the city to the place of execution. Those who took the lead in the execution were the persons wile had taken upon themselves the responsibility of denouncing him.
comp. John 8:7 In this instance they were the witnesses who had reported or misreported the words of Stephen. They, according to the custom, stripped themselves; and one, of the prominent leaders in the transaction was deputed by custom to signify his assent to the act by taking the clothes into his custody and standing over them while the bloody work went on. The person was officiated on this occasion was a young man from Tarsus, the future apostle of the Gentiles. [PAUL] As the first volley of stones burst upon him, Stephen called upon the Master whose human form he had just seen in the heavens, and repeated almost the words with which he himself had given up his life on the cross, "O Lord Jesus receive my spirit." Another crash of stones brought him on his knees. One loud, piercing cry, answering to the shriek or yell with which his enemies had flown upon him, escaped his dying lips. Again clinging to the spirit of his Master's words, he cried "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" and instantly sank upon the ground, and, in the touching language of the narrator who then uses for the first time the words afterward applied to the departure of all Christians, but here the more remarkable from the bloody scenes in the midst of which death took place, fell asleep. His mangled body was buried by the class of Hellenists and proselytes to which he belonged. The importance of Stephen's career may be briefly summed up under three heads:
1. He was the first great Christian ecclesiastic, "the Archdeacon," as he is called in the eastern Church.
2. He is the first martyr --the protomartyr. To him the name "martyr" is first applied.
3. He is the forerunner of St. Paul. He was the anticipator, as, had he lived, he would have been the propagator, of the new phase of Christianity of which St. Paul became the main support.
STEPHEN, the first martyr. He is always put at the head of the seven deacons; and it is believed he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. As he was full of the Holy Ghost, and of zeal, Ac 6:5-6, &c, he performed many wonderful miracles: and those of the synagogue of the Libertines, of the Cyrenians, of the Alexandrians, and others, disputing with him, could not withstand the wisdom and the power with which the spoke. Then having suborned false witnesses, to testify that they had heard him blaspheme against Moses, and against God, they drew him before the sanhedrim. Stephen appeared in the midst of this assembly, with a countenance like that of an angel; and the high priest asking him what he had to answer, in his defence, he rapidly traced the history of the Jews, showing that they had always opposed themselves to God and his prophets; faithfully upbraided them with the hardness of their hearts, with their putting the prophets to death, and, lastly, with slaying Christ himself. At these words they were filled with rage, and gnashed their teeth against him. But Stephen, lifting up his eyes to heaven, calmly exclaimed, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." Then the Jews cried out, and stopped their ears as though they had heard blasphemy, and falling on him, they drew him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul, afterward St. Paul, who then appears to have commenced his career of persecution. "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive, my spirit; and he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep," an example of the majesty and meekness of true Christian heroism, and as the first, so also the pattern, of all subsequent martyrs. His Christian brethren forsook not the remains of this holy man; but took care to bury him, and accompanied his funeral with great mourning, Ac 8:2.